EDMONTON- In a province known for both its prolific production and consumption of beef, a documentary team decided to see what would happen when several Albertans shifted to a raw vegan diet.
The 60-minute film, titled I Like It Raw, explores how five Alberta carnivores, each with a pre-exisiting health condition, fare when they spend 30 days on an uncooked, meatless diet in an effort to reclaim their health.
The documentary’s host and producer said it was her own skin issues and fascination with health and nutrition that prompted her to make the film.
“I have always been really fascinated with food and with health and always on my own journey of what made me feel the best; whether it’s what I’m eating or how much I’m working out or how much water I’m drinking,” Dana Giesbrecht said.
She said she had read multiple accounts of people who decided to pursue a raw vegan diet and claimed it either solved or improved a number of medical issues for them.
Giesbrecht put out a call on social media for people with pre-existing conditions, who were committed to trying the diet for 30 days and who had an interesting relationship with food.
One of those participants was 55-year-old father Shane Walker.
“He was committed,” Giesbrecht said. “He had attempted to lose a lot of weight in the past…for gastro-bypass surgery and was successful with that until he went off that diet. And then had issues and gained all the weight back.”
“Thinking of just eating raw vegetables is like really scary,” Walker said. “I’m South African, you know? We eat meat.”
When shooting began last March, Walker weighed 400 pounds and suffered from numerous health issues. He said while he was nervous, he had tried drastic diets before and was ready for a change.
“More people need to know about it, more people need to learn about this. This is the right way to do things,” he said.
During the course of the challenge, Walker lost his job, which proved to make his commitment even more of a challenge.
An Edmonton-based dietitian said she agrees plant-based diets offer significant health benefits.
“I think when you’re having food in the least-processed form possible, the better,” registered dietitian Lalitha Taylor said.
“There are going to be more enzymes, there are going to be more vitamins available to you when you’re not cooking them as much.”
Taylor said there are cases, like for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, where digesting raw foods would be more difficult, however. She added there are some foods, like tomatoes, where cooking actually increases the potency of certain antioxidants.
While Taylor said she supports the idea of people trying a raw vegan diet, she is concerned that without planning, some people may not receive sufficient protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron and essential fatty acids.
“You really need to empower yourself with some knowledge before undertaking something like a raw vegan diet for every single meal on a daily basis,” Taylor said. “Especially if you want to meet everything in terms of your nutrient needs.”
According to Taylor, plant-based diets have been shown to reduce rates of obesity, heart disease, blood pressure problems, high cholesterol and even decrease rates of type 2 diabetes and prevent certain types of cancer.
Giesbrecht said the 30-day challenge proved, to varying degrees, to be a success for all involved. She said her skin cleared up and that she had much more energy. She said all participants lost weight and many remarked they had developed more mental clarity and ability to focus.
While she has incorporated some raw vegan items into her diet, Giesbrecht said to do another 30-day challenge she would definitely prefer to do it during and Edmonton summer rather than winter.
“Doing a raw food diet in March in northern Alberta is quite chilly,” she said. “If you’re not heating any of your food…it gets cold.”
I Like It Raw premieres on Shaw TV Channel 10 at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
-with files from Su-Ling Goh
© 2016 Shaw Media